Non-Fiction Writing Contest

Today s non-fiction writing

For many years, The Hook ran a writing contest in conjunction with the Virginia Festival of the Book that was judged by John Grisham. With the newspaper’s closure last summer, it looked like local writers were out of luck if they wanted to compete for cash and readers. But WriterHouse, the local nonprofit dedicated to promoting the art of writing in all of its forms, has stepped up to fill the void.

Celebrity guest judge Jane Alison, the most recent addition to the UVA creative writing faculty, will select first-, second-, and third-place winners from the top submissions of creative nonfiction works in three categories: general, local flavor, and youth. Entries open today and close on May 15 and each first-place winner will win $500 and publication in a C-VILLE Weekly special issue in July. For more information, visit

Ready to give it a shot? If you were a student in Alison’s undergraduate fiction writing workshop, you’d be told to close your laptop and put down your pen.

“I believe in writers working as hard as they can to have their brains translate the larger world around them, ” Alison said in a recent interview. “So I send them out into town and make them absorb things, not to impose all their predetermined views on things that they see but to be completely photographic and absorb everything.”

Alison established herself as a literary force with her 2009 memoir, The Sisters Antipodes. Applauded by Kirkus Review, Publishers’ Weekly, and People magazine, the book was Alison’s third attempt to make story and sense out of personal history.

“I was born in Australia, and I grew up in the Australian foreign service until my parents switched partners with an American foreign service couple, ” she said. “I ended up getting a new father and a new accent and a new nation and a new name. So I think the things I write have to do with these core issues of identity, expressed particularly in place.”

Alison came to her craft by circuitous way of studying “Latin and Greek in a crappy high school in Washington D.C., ” she said. “But not so crappy that they didn’t have Latin.” She majored in classics at Princeton and went on to Brown, where she “had a fit, ” as she put it, and resolved to become an illustrator.

Alison left academia to illustrate children’s books and began writing for newspapers, first in D.C., then Miami. In New Orleans she worked as a speech writer for Tulane University.

“I found myself writing what felt fictional because someone else would be speaking, not me, ” she said.

Focusing on adult fiction, she went back to school and received her MFA from Columbia. She married and moved to Germany, where she wrote The Love-Artist, a novel about Ovid and why he was banished from Rome.

“I had an awareness of being someone who was not in the right place and didn’t speak the language and lost all kinds of identity as a result, ” she said.

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